Senate Republicans powered their budget through Thursday night, adopting a fiscal year 2018 plan that would clear the path to get a massive tax deal done relying only on GOP votes, setting the stage for Republicans’ next big-ticket agenda item.
The budget passed on a 51-49 vote. While the vote is far from a guarantee of success for tax reform, it’s a crucial first step that GOP leaders had to clear.
“Tonight we completed the first step toward replacing our broken tax code by passing a comprehensive, fiscally responsible budget that will help put the federal government on a path to balance,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Already months overdue — the fiscal year began Oct. 1 — the budget calls for about $1 trillion in discretionary spending this year, and envisions deficits of $641 billion.
But even Republicans said those numbers were probably irrelevant, and it will take a bipartisan deal later this year to set actual spending levels for 2018.
Instead, the goal of the budget was to set up what’s known as the “reconciliation” process, which allows big financial measures to pass the Senate by majority vote, without having to overcome a filibuster.
Democrats used reconciliation to ease passage of Obamacare in 2010, and Republicans used it to pass tax cuts in 2001 and 2003. The GOP also tried to harness it for the Obamacare repeal effort earlier this year, but were unable to get enough support from within their own ranks.
Throughout the day Thursday Republicans fended off Democratic efforts to derail the budget or hamper the tax reform, shunting aside everything from attempts to force more transparency on the tax debate to putting limits on how deeply the GOP could cut taxes.
Democrats said the votes proved Republicans were more interested in a political win on taxes than on getting a good bill.